Freedom to Choose Where to Work and Live:  Human-centric Workplace Ecosystem in Cities and Regions-Part 2

In part 1 of this article, we introduced the concept of the three freedoms associated with a large-scale workplace ecosystem for people and businesses. In this article, we are diving deeper into the first freedom, the Freedom to Choose the place where you live and work. 

For almost a century since the 1920s, many people have been commuting from the suburbs to cities. Cities were where you worked, and the suburbs were where you lived. The separation between work and living were distinct. In this context, people actually did not have the full freedom to choose the place to live, since it was restricted to a reasonable commutable distance from their workplace.

But over the past 20 years, technology has been making it possible for us to have more freedom of choice. Additionally, people also started to demand more work-life balance. Values and needs became far more diverse and companies and society needed to embrace and respond to them.  

With the Pandemic, it has become widespread. Now in the New Normal, you have more choices of work locations and a much larger choice of places to live. So then, where do you live?

In the New Normal, you have more choices of work locations and a much larger choice of places to live

Infinite Choices of Places to Live

During the pandemic, many people moved away from metropolises to the far-suburbs or to the countryside. The reasons for relocations included more safety, more time with family, larger spaces for the family and being in nature. In Southern Connecticut, which is one to two-hours away from Manhattan, average home prices increased by 20 percent in just one year (2019 to 2020)1on-Robb, Pat. “Connecticut Touts Real Estate Boom Stemming from Pandemic.” Connecticut Public Radio, February 23, 2021  , and similar increases were observed in small towns two to four hours from either Manhattan or Boston also.  Interestingly, those who were relocating did not care about the convenience of commuting. The property values near train stations in southwestern Connecticut are now falling.

However, not everyone will choose to live in far-suburbs or the countryside. A study2Ioannides, Yannis M. and Jeffrey E. Zabel (2002) “Interactions, Neighborhood Selection and Housing Demand”, Economic Studies, number 02-19, August 2002, U.S. Census Bureau  in the U.S. several years before the pandemic shows that people tend to live close to people who are like them. The similarities include not only their socioeconomic backgrounds, which can be a concern from equity points of view, but also their lifestyles, cultures, and values. For those who place importance on urban cultures and activities, metropolises will still remain their choice of places to work and live.

This Freedom to Choose for individuals also supports the well-being of businesses, as well as that of the nation. For a business, a multi-place system is an ecosystem of production that ensures better risk management and agility. For a developed nation that often suffers from the excessive concentration of population and production in a few metropolises, Freedom to Choose can potentially mean a redistribution of population and production, which will improve disaster management and guarantee resiliency. 

(Yvonne Snapshot:) I have the opportunity to house sit for a friend in another state for a period of time. If I were tied to an office or if this was pre-pandemic, I would not be able to take full advantage of this offer.  Now, due to the changes that are now more widespread and acceptable and the fact that my business is virtual, as long as I have an internet connection and my computer, I can work from anywhere in the world. So, I pack my computers and off I go. I will move from my smaller urban space to a new workplace – a beautiful house with a yard and a pool in the sunshine state.

In-between Places and Circulations

When people truly have the full freedom to choose places to work and live, we will see a larger variation of circulations (in the Architectural field, this refers to lines of traffic flow) that will become heavier than the traditional commuting ones between the large cities and suburbs. The new circulations are closer to peoples’ homes and includes commuting to satellite offices, going to coffee shops during work, picking up/dropping off children, and short drives to activities (grocery shopping, volunteering, meeting friends). These emerging circulations mean that the places near to your home are now an extension of your work environment. People now have opportunities to use it to create Michiyuki on a different scale which we will discuss further in the next article.

The new circulations also change the demands for the infrastructure between spatial nodes. Commuting traffic (for cars and trains) decreases, and short distance traffic (for cars, buses, bicycles, and pedestrians) increases as some studies3One of the earliest is Mokhtarian, Patricia L. and Dennis K. Henderson. 1998. “Analyzing the Travel Behavior of Home-Based Workers in the 1991 CALTRAN Statewide Travel Survey.” Journal of Transportation and Statistics, Volume I, Number 3. October 1998. Pp.25-41 have found. However, many far-suburbs and small towns are not yet ready for this shift. Becoming ready will make these places even more attractive for people with this Freedom to Choose, which will contribute to making these places thrive.

When Choosing Places, Technology Helps

With Freedom to Choose, both individuals and businesses will constantly search for better places to suit their work and living needs.  Mobility (relocations) of the people will increase. For businesses, increased flexibility of space, number of spaces, and lease conditions have already become crucial. The tendency to geographically follow qualified workers, which was already observed before the pandemic, will be intensified.

Platform Real Estate will support the demand for the type of data that identifies spaces and places to live and work.

Emerging technology will and needs to support the demand for the type of data that identifies spaces and places to live and work. This is often called Proptech (Property Technology).  Many prefer to call it Platform Real Estate, which represents its meaning more accurately4Shaw, J. 2018. “Platform Real Estate: Theory and Practice of New Urban Real Estate Markets.” Urban Geography 41 (8): 1037–64 It is a stack-up of data collected from enormous numbers of users and owners of spaces and places including occupancy rates, prices, geographical and environmental information, and resources.

We are already seeing the beginnings of it with Zillow, Uber maps, and Google Maps in which geographical data is combined with socio-economic data, market information, circulations, and much more, often in real-time, which helps people better choose places.

But no platform technology is completely neutral.  Organizations collecting and evaluating data use criteria relevant to them which will influence what we see and judge. In order for individuals and businesses to choose wisely for their well-being, both sides need to watch and be involved with establishing the requirements for the development of this technology.

This Freedom to Choose for individuals also supports the well-being of businesses, as well as that of the nation.

Y. Kawai & Y. Burton

In summary,

As one of the three freedoms that are brought on by the larger scale workplace ecosystem, Freedom to Choose allows for near unlimited options when choosing where to live. Residential and work locations can now be far more dispersed and distanced but not necessarily against urban living.  New infrastructure will be key in supporting these more diverse working and living locations for people, businesses and communities to thrive.

In the next article, we will discuss Freedom to Create ways to live and work. 

(Written by Yoko Kawai and Yvonne Burton)